The Importance of College Education for Urban Students

Photo courtesy of Pixabay user Foundry.

Higher education is a fundamental of learning for many people. However, it’s not equally accessible to everyone, particularly those in urban cities.

Most high schools in Baltimore City lack the funding and information to help students go to college. For example, not many public city schools have enough fee waivers for their students’ college applications and SATs. Also, not many public city high schools have college prep courses, which could help and make a difference to help educate students for college. Therefore, education has been an issue for many students across the nation who live and go to high school in urban areas, which does not encourage education as much as suburban schools.

I can personally speak about my experience as an urban student since I was born and raised in Baltimore city. As I was doing well academically in my classes, I noticed how my high school particularly was not prepared enough to help students become more aware of being college literate. I graduated from Digital Harbor high school in 2011. However, as the years went by, I noticed that a number of students had stopped attending my high school. By graduation day, only about 85 of my friends graduated. However, only 30 of them were actually going to college; the rest had plans to either work or join the military.

According to Rita Axelroth in her article “Raising Graduation and College Going Rates,” statistics show that 1.2 million Americans drop out of high school each year; half of these dropouts come from 15 percent of high schools in our nation’s high-poverty neighborhoods. Additionally, among children living in urban areas, 49 percent or 9.7 million live in low-income families. This is a huge component to why many students are currently struggling now in high school and don’t see the reason or value or succeeding and reaching a college education.

I asked first-generation college graduates who work at McDaniel and McDaniel students from urban areas about their thoughts on seeking a college education after high school.

Jennifer Marana, the director of Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs sees college as a way of finding opportunity. “I think all students, not just students from an urban city, should explore attending college upon graduation. I realize that college is not for everyone, but it should be an option that is considered for any student after high school. A college degree can open up doors to job opportunities that might not be possible for those without a college degree,” she said.

Political science professor Dr. Johnson-Ross views college as a means of upward mobility. “Education is a powerful factor in helping people advance economically and socially. A college degree adds to a person’s earning power over his or her lifetime and increases the likelihood that they will be able to move beyond any unfortunate circumstances they may have faced early in life.”

Marana and Johnson-Ross also spoke of the importance of their own time spent in college and how it has impacted their careers.

“College has made such a huge impact on me that I decided to continue my career in a college setting. As a first-generation college student, I felt very lost and alone upon entering college. I was ready to transfer and move back home after one semester. I decided to stick with it. I did well academically and developed lifetime friendships,” said Marana.

Johnson-Ross remarked on the importance of having a liberal arts education. “College was important for two reasons. First, having a college degree from a liberal arts institution has made me well educated in the broadest sense. I may not use my knowledge of Shakespeare in my work as a political scientist, but if I need to use that knowledge for any reason, it is in my head ‘filed for future use.’ My love of literature and films helps me teach political science because I can use my knowledge in those areas to illustrate complex concepts to my political science students,” she said.

Marana and Johnson-Ross are two examples of individuals who attended college and found success afterwards. However, urban students currently attending McDaniel College still face obstacles, even though they have overcome those that they faced in high school.

“My biggest obstacle was not realizing that I wanted to go to college until my senior year. I had to work really hard to get my GPA up in order to get accepted into college,” said junior Melinda Romero of the challenges she faced in high school. Romero also said that financial issues and balancing her personal life with academics is still an ongoing challenge for her at McDaniel.

Junior Joseline Cisneros offered ideas for how urban high schools can better serve their students, saying that urban high schools should support their students and provide them with the information needed for entering college. Cisneros also mentioned that obstacles she faced upon coming to college were transitioning into going to college and finding the time management skills to stay consistent in college.

Students in urbanized cities need much more encouragement, so they can be motivated for reaching the level of secondary education. High schools in urban cities need to increase funding and subsidize their costs to let students receive the funding and information they need to help them go to college. Also, all public city high schools need to offer college prep courses, which could help better educate students for college. College prep courses can help students improve time management skills and obtain the mindset for college, helping them see the value of a college education and experience and aspire to go to college. Ultimately, more students of urban backgrounds attending college will help create a more educated America.